Zoology takes an outlandish, potentially ludicrous premise, and treats it with a defiant sincerity. The film, from Russian director Ivan Tverdovsky, examines the consequences when a put-upon middle-aged misfit suddenly grows an animal tail.
Natasha (played well by Natalya Pavlenkova) is a Zoo worker who lives with her mother. Her co-workers are ruthlessly, excessively cruel to her, and her life consists of lonely joylessness and victimisation. Once she grows, in Zoology’s surreal twist, an eerie, animalistic tail, her life begins to gradually alter. Rumours of her affliction unsurprisingly spread fast around the locale, with the town’s gossip fuelled by reports of a satanic figure with a tail. After repeated X-rays are unable to provide a comprehensive enough image of the tail to allow for amputation, she tries to live despite the tail, with a makeover and promising new relationship with a younger male doctor (who had tried to treat her) suggesting that the sprouting of the appendage may just have unearthed a long-hidden lust for life.
“a bleak and punishing narrative”
There is talent and originality on show in Zoology, albeit tempered with an almost relentlessly grim outlook. The world is harsh and pitiless for Natasha, almost monotonously so. The tail itself is a prime signifier of this; what could have been a source of levity, of the playfully surreal, is instead an uncomfortable, repellent growth-like presence. We don’t so much sympathise with the lead character as straight-up pity her, her every attempt to earn some self-respect slapped down by the bleak and punishing narrative.
There is a lot to be admired in Zoology, and a bit to enjoy, but the bleakest of sensibilities means that this socio-realist fairy-tale will leave many unwilling to try.
Image: Ivan Tverdovsky